Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Outtakes—Public Dialogue Needed

By Rick Outzen

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward isn’t happy with how the public treated City Attorney Lysia Bowling at the Sept. 19 council meeting.  He was so upset that he sent a letter to Council President Brian Spencer admonishing him because the mayor was displeased with the “tone of the discussion and the disparaging remarks” directed toward the city attorney.

“The days are long past where the governing body of a community can chain individuals to a post in the public square and invite anyone to throw stones at them,” wrote the mayor.

Everyone deserves to be treated respectfully in public and privately, and we should be able to discuss and disagree without disparaging anyone. However, the other side of respect is listening to all parties—something the mayor has avoided for four years. When people believe their leaders don’t care about what they think, they get frustrated.

In December 2013, Mayor Hayward discontinued his “Taking City Hall to the Citizens” town hall meetings. At those meetings, citizens met with him and his department heads, asked questions, made comments, and were heard.  Unfortunately, he has stopped meeting face-to-face with voters in town hall settings.  The openness and public dialogue that were the hallmarks of the first three years in office have vanished.

The last “Taking City Hall to the Citizens” town hall for District 6, which encompasses the North Hill residents at the meeting, was in October 2012. Since then, Mayor Hayward has repeatedly failed to listen to the concerns of District 6 and fought them on issues such as the relocation of the parole and probation center and the installation of a radio tower in the Long Hollow Conservation District.

With Hayward hiding from public debate and avoiding any meaningful Q&A sessions with voters, the public is going to become frustrated as they did on Sept. 19.

However, the mayor took no responsibility for the mounting frustration in the community.  He placed the blame on Spencer and included with the letter a 20-page memorandum on meeting order and decorum prepared in 2014. He said, “In light of the improper decorum that was on display at Wednesday’s meeting, now is a good time to review procedural tools that you have as council president to conduct the meeting…”

Could Council President Brian Spencer do a better job of running the meetings? Yes. I would suggest reviewing how Commissioner Steve Barry handled the contentious debates regarding the Confederate flag two years ago.

However, the issue is not a vocal audience at a council meeting. No, it’s a mayor that has shut off public discussion and quit listening and interacting with the voters on issues.